Now lights get brighter for Sixers

Doug Collins hugs Thaddeus Young, one of many 76ers who lack playoff experience.
Doug Collins hugs Thaddeus Young, one of many 76ers who lack playoff experience.
Posted: April 11, 2011

Doug Collins really has no way of knowing what he has. He knows that his 76ers are resilient, that they can handle success, that they can bounce back from defeat, that they're young but they care, that they're good guys, and that they try to do what the coaches ask.

But this weekend, when the lights are turned up just a little brighter and the stage is that much bigger, Collins has no clue what he will see. Three of his five starters have never been to the playoffs. How in the world are they going to react? Nothing in the regular season can begin to provide a clue.

"We'll see what happens," Collins said.

This is a very exciting time for the Sixers. At 41-39 with only two games left against Orlando on Monday and Detroit on Wednesday, the team is guaranteed to finish no worse than .500. The Sixers will be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09, and while they will be significant underdogs either to Boston or Miami, it will be a huge step for this young team.

Collins could not be happier about it. From the second he stepped foot back in Philadelphia, Collins thought it was very, very important that this young team experience the playoffs in his first season as coach.

Call it baby steps, or building blocks, next weekend will be incredibly telling, particularly for Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks and Spencer Hawes, the three starters who have zero postseason experience. How will they deal with the added pressure? Some players thrive in that environment. Others shy away from it. The only way to know for sure is through experience.

Of the eight regular contributors on the team, only Elton Brand has won a playoff series, although in 12 seasons he has played in only one postseason. Andre Iguodala has played in three, but has never made it out of the first round.

Collins said one of his team's many endearing qualities is its naivete. Because they are so young, so inexperienced, the players don't know what they don't know. They don't know they're supposed to be at least a little nervous for the playoffs, or that the energy in the arena will be unlike anything they've seen in the regular season. They don't know that those 50-50 balls Collins has harped on them to go get all season could be the difference between a win and a loss. They don't know that sometimes the rims look just a hair smaller than they usually do, and when that happens, shooters have to keep shooting.

This will be all new. Fun, but new.

"In the playoffs, you learn so much about yourself," Collins said. "It's such another growth. That's why I so badly wanted our guys to taste it this year, to get in. Whether it's Boston and going to TD Garden and playing this team that has won the championship and been to the Finals and gone on this postseason run, or you go to Miami and you play with the glitz and the glamour and the three [players] they put together, you really find out about the pressure and how you deal with it.

"You find out between games the little things about how you might move a screen over a foot and change the angle of it and it will change the whole play and what it does for them. That, to me, is all good for our guys."

It is unlikely that the Sixers will win their first playoff series since Larry Brown was the coach in 2002-03, but that is beside the point. This will be about getting the young players, including Lou Williams and Evan Turner, valuable postseason minutes, because this is not the last time Collins expects the team to be there.

Rebuilding is a process. This will be a necessary step toward achieving the greater goal.

Last week, after the Sixers lost to the Knicks, Collins talked to his players about focusing on the little things. He wanted them to pay attention to detail, to value every possession, to not take plays off, because in the postseason, the little things matter even more.

To buttress Collins' point, Brand told a story about when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2005-06. They played Phoenix in the playoffs, and the Clippers were so concerned about containing Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudamire that they went to sleep on Raja Bell.

"Elton said, 'You know what? It's not always the guys who [you] think about who are going to make the shot,' " Collins said. "You would think Steve Nash or Amar'e Stoudamire would make the shots, and Raja Bell made a three in the corner and they go on and lose that series."

After this playoff series, the young Sixers will know those things, and Collins will finally know for sure just what he has in this team.

Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or

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